Dani men in a Balim Valley village wearing traditional gourds (koteca), West Papua, Indonesia.
Dani Life in Baliem Valley
The most colourful and photogenic part of Indonesia’s Baliem experience is Dani fashion.
The well-travelled Dani male – outside the central town of Wamena – wears feathers in his hair, pig fat mixed with soot over the upper body, face and hair, and an enormous, inconvenient penis gourd. Curly or straight, the koteca is 30 -50 cm long, light brown and held erect by one string around the waist and one around the scrotum. Pig tusks through the nose, war paint and a bundle of spears are optional extras.
A Dani village in the valley.
Weather: Indonesia’s Baliem Valley is warm and wet for much of the year. January to March is supposed to be the most comfortable season. July and August are the busy months; less seats, less rooms, more travelers, more expense.
Wamena, Baliem’s main town, and the market area in particular, is an agreeable introduction to the Dani, but for the real thing you should travel around the Balim and adjoining valleys, taking at least two or three days, and staying in Dani villages – almost certainly in the men’s hut.
Guides: An experienced English-speaking guide with some knowledge of Dani language is vital for a full exploration of such an alien environment.
Few Dani people speak English and inter-clan rivalries may affect their information and en-route contacts, so unfortunately some of the best guides are from other islands in Indonesia, such as Sulawesi, and not natives of the culture at all.